A historic community centre that was saved from demolition by activists – including Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon – has been given a new lease of life by architecture studio New Practice.
Although the building was in a poor state, with an extremely leaking roof, faulty electrics and a broken heating system, the Glasgow-based architects’ approach was to save as much of the existing structure and interior as possible.
They adopted a reuse and recycle strategy, while also making subtle changes that improve the building’s functionality and accessibility.
The revamped interiors are animated by a system of colour-blocking, which helps to ensure the building can be easily navigated by people of all literacy levels.
“One of our key aims was to keep the building feeling familiar,” explains Thomas in a video about the project.
“Lots of people have hugely strong memories and love for the building and we didn’t want to change that too much. By taking this adaptive reuse approach, we just kept the building feeling like itself and tried to elevate that,” she said.
“Every choice to remove something original has been taken only where we absolutely needed to remove that, for the safety and for the future of the building.”
Kinning Park Complex first became a community centre after the school closed down in 1976, but looked set for demolition when the council announced plans to close it in 1996.
Local residents and campaigners, including a then-25-year old Nicola Sturgeon, staged a sit-in to protest the closure. After 55 days, the council agreed to let the community take over the building’s running.
The building stayed in use for another two decades, but over time its problems became hard to ignore.
The trustees, led by local resident Helen Kyle, approached New Practice after seeing Many Studios, a creative hub that the architects created in a converted Glasgow market hall.
The challenge was not only to refurbish the building but also to help support the community’s ambition to buy the property, by improving opportunities for income generation.
Thanks to government and lottery funding, the architects were able to plan a full overhaul of the interior in collaboration with engineering firm Max Fordham.
The roof was replaced as sensitively as possible, while the interior layout was gently adjusted to make room for a lift.
The atrium, which was once subdivided to separate boys and girls, is now opened up. The result is a space that feels generous and bright, thanks to the skylight overhead.
Three floors of classroom and office spaces have been adapted for a range of uses. A community kitchen can be found on the ground floor, while the second level has become a co-working space.
“A key decision that we had to make was to ensure that the work that we were doing in the building didn’t sanitise this rich, abrasive history of activism and community-led dialogues and debates,” said Cairns.
“We really tried to keep that at the forefront of our thinking.”
Flexible partitions allows the ground- and first-floor halls to be easily subdivided if required.
Other spaces include a quiet room that could be used for anything from prayer to breast-feeding, and a series of small studios and workshops.
Realising the project in the context of the pandemic proved a challenge. With the architects unable to be on site all the time, they found it difficult to fully realise their ambition to reuse as much as possible.
Thomas and Cairns recall coming to site to find elements such as doors and balustrade railings had been thrown away by builders, despite their instructions.
Nonetheless there are still plenty of recycled details to be found, including a framed patch of original wallpaper and a series of storage cabinets built into the walls.
They hope the building can help to become a positive example of adaptive reuse, particularly in light of the COP26 environmental conference that recently took place in Glasgow.
This sentiment is echoed by Sturgeon: “The challenge of refurbishing and imagining a building like this, for decades to come, is fantastically dynamic for the architecture and design industries,” she said.
“We just took it for granted that buildings would reach the end of their natural life and then they would sort of fall into dereliction, and thankfully communities decided that that wasn’t going to happen. So we’ve learned how to reimagine things for the future and preserve for the future.”
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